Networking is one of the best things you can do for your business, period. People like doing business with people. It’s a low cost way to market your photography business, and if you put your heart into it, it will pay off in a huge way. We have tried many, many different methods of wedding marketing, and networking is one of the very best, especially if you are trying to break into the high end weddings market.
It doesn't happen overnight though; you have to take the time to build relationships with people. The most important thing to remember with networking is that you actually have to make an effort to meet people and get to know them. Simply showing up isn't enough. Have a plan of what you want to accomplish, and then set out to take action-this usually means walking right up to strangers and introducing yourself or asking friends for introductions. Here are 11 smart tips to help you make the most of your networking efforts.
- Ask a planner to keep you in the loop about networking opportunities. Planners get invited to ALL the events, and are often willing to pass along invites if you ask. When you are at an event, ask people what other events they are planning to go to this month. This is a natural subject to talk about and you can learn about upcoming events.
- Wear something unique that will help you stand out from the crowd-a friend of mine always wears bright yellow, as that is her signature logo color, and she stands out in a sea of black.
- Expect to invest 6-12 months in networking before you get to know people and start feel comfortable. You have to attend as many events as you can initially-some will be great, others might be duds. Eventually, you will start to feel like certain groups are more of a match for you, and then you can start to be more selective. The key to understand is that nothing will likely happen for the first 6 months-you have to invest the time-plant the seeds-that will later grow into relationships.
- Set a goal for yourself to meet 3 new people that can help you grow your business. You literally just walk over to someone and introduce yourself. It’s as simple as that. Everyone is there for the same reason. I always think of myself as “helping out” another shy person who is standing by themselves. I've made some great connections this way. If there is an online RSVP list, I will review the list prior to see who’s coming and if there is anyone that I specifically want to connect with.
- Create a follow-up plan after each event-take notes on who you met and any details you can remember. The very next day, send an email saying you enjoyed meeting them. You might also want to mail them a promo packet if it seemed like a good match. Invite them to be friends on Facebook. If you've worked together in the past, offer to send them images.
- After Parties-Often people will go out for drinks or lunch together after the event-this is where the best networking happens, so take advantage of these opportunities. Take it a step further by initiating yourself.
- If you have a photography brochure, keep a small stash in your car for when the opportunity arises. As a female, I specifically use a larger size purse at networking events for holding a few brochures. I don’t hand them out to everyone, but will if if it seems like a really good connection.
- For organized events where there is a speaker or presentation, the best (and often only) networking time is the first 30 minutes, so be sure to be on time to maximize the opportunity.
- The very best networking is at the exclusive invite only events. These are smaller and more intimate, and often celebrations or grand openings for a studio, those types of things. In order to get invited to these, you have to expand your network. Attend as many events as you can and talk with people and eventually you will start getting invites to the private events.
- Wedding magazine parties often have yearly parties for advertisers or (potential advertisers) so be sure to get yourself on these invite lists-by submitting to them regularly. This is a great way to begin building up your relationship to magazine editors. It takes a couple of times, but eventually they will remember you.
- Bridal Fairs are a great place for networking-during the fashion show is the best time. All you have to do is walk around and introduce yourself, it’s pretty easy and the vendors are in the mindset of talking to people and building relationships, and are often bored during the fashion show. If you are looking to break into the high end wedding scene, the best thing you can do is attend the high end bridal fairs. Not only will you get to see what high end looks like in your market, you have the opportunity to mix and mingle, see upcoming trends, etc. Lots of vendors attend the high end bridal fairs simply for the networking opportunities. And frequently people get together after the show for drinks and dinner. Make it happen by inviting another vendor or two to join you after the show.
Now is the time to get started with networking, because the wedding season is starting to wind down. Which means that wedding professionals will start having time to reconnect and plan and attend fun networking events. Here are some national organizations that hold events regularly:
- ISES (International Special Event Society)
- NACE (National Association of Catering Executives)
- WIPA (Wedding Industry Professionals Assn)
- Wish Upon a Wedding
- Some local chambers have a weddings/events group
- Meetup groups for wedding professionals
Do you have a super awesome networking tip? Share in the comments below.